Part coming-of-age romance, part thriller, "Bomb Island" is a funny and fast-paced Southern summer novel exploring sub-culture communities, survival, and found family set on an island near an unexploded atomic bomb. Join Peter and Orlando as they discuss this journey through the weirds and wilds of Coastal Georgia.  


Bomb Island by Stephen Hundley

Bomb Island by Stephen Hundley

Credit: Hub City Press

Peter Biello: Coming up in this episode.

Stephen Hundley: I think a barrier island was such a great location for a coming-of-age, because you have to go out, you have to push the boundaries.

Peter Biello: So there's Fish, there's Whistle, there's a guy named Nutso, a guy named Reef.

Orlando Montoya: It's a story based around something, but it's not about the something. It's really a story. So I'd like to hear about the story. This podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting highlights books with Georgia Connections, hosted by two of your favorite public radio book nerds, who also happen to be your hosts of All Things Considered on GPB Radio. I'm Orlando Montoya.

Peter Biello: And I'm Peter Biello. Thanks for joining us as we introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind the stories — mixed with our own thoughts and ideas on just what gives these works the Narrative Edge.

Orlando Montoya: All right. What book are we talking about today?

Peter Biello: Okay, Orlando, today we're talking about Bomb Island by Stephen Hundley, which was actually inspired by a real bomb in the ocean off the coast of Georgia, off the coast of Tybee Island. You lived in Savannah for a time. Maybe you heard about this bomb.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah. Wassaw Sound. It's called the Tybee Bomb.

Peter Biello: The bomb in this book, Bomb Island, is a nuclear bomb. That's also a nuclear bomb, right?

Orlando Montoya: Well, it was supposedly dropped in the ocean, but it supposedly is completely inert and is not a danger to anyone. It's just sort of sitting there.

Peter Biello: It surprises me that this is not more well known.

Orlando Montoya: Well, there's been, you know, a few TV documentaries, maybe some articles here and there, but I wouldn't say that it's like common knowledge in Savannah.

Peter Biello: As far as I understand it, too, no one really knows exactly where it is.

Orlando Montoya: Nobody knows exactly where it is. It was like secret for a long time.

Peter Biello: Secret? Like the government didn't want people worrying about it or looking for it?

Orlando Montoya: I guess they didn't find out about it until years later. Keep in mind, my mind is kind of fuzzy.

Peter Biello: Okay, well, the salient fact here is that the novel doesn't completely diverge from real life. In the novel, as in real life, two military planes collided midair, and the plane with the bomb preferred to drop it in the ocean rather than risk crashing on or closer to land. So it sank, and in the ocean. But in real life, nobody knows where the bomb is. But in the book, they do know where it is. And it's a tourist attraction. You can see it with a glass-bottomed boat.

Orlando Montoya: It's a story based around something, but it's not about the something. It's really a story. And so I'd like to hear about the story.

Peter Biello: Yeah. So the family at the center of this book that lives on Bomb Island, they take tourists out on the boat to show them the bomb. That's their job. It's kind of an understated part of the book. But it is the thing that makes the setting and all the other plot elements possible. I spoke with Hundley about his book, and he told me that he was trying overall to show how the American South commodify its oddities. So even though Tybee Island doesn't market the heck out of the bomb that's somewhere out there, this fictional South Georgia community does. And it's also a storytelling technique.

Stephen Hundley: It's not a pressing danger. More of like providing an atmosphere of mystery and hazard and sort of this Bermuda Triangle effect I wanted to produce. Growing up around these barrier islands like I did, you got the feeling that things collected there and anything was possible there.

Orlando Montoya: We got a bomb. It's somewhere off this island, and there are people involved. We know the people?

Peter Biello: Yeah, we know the people. The main character is a 15-year-old boy named Fish.

Orlando Montoya: Okay.

Peter Biello: Yeah. Fish. F-I-S-H. That's his name.

Orlando Montoya: They could have at least spelled it F-Y-S-H-E or something like that. But Fish.

Peter Biello: Very, very Gen Z of him. No. He — Fish was orphaned early in life and then more or less adopted by a woman named Whistle.

Orlando Montoya: Oh my goodness. This gets better.

Peter Biello: So there's Fish. There's Whistle. There's a guy named Nutso, a guy named Reef. And they came to this island from Atlanta when Fish was little. And he's essentially been raised by these people. Especially Whistle, who is kind of a — a peacenik mother figure. And this is his chosen family. Of course, he didn't get a chance to choose, necessarily, but he's growing up with these people. He's very close to them. Their their lives are to some extent normalized. But when the novel opens, Fish is a teenager. So cast your mind back, Orlando.

Orlando Montoya: OK

Peter Biello: To when you're — you were a teenager. Were you an angsty teenager?

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, I was just depressed. You know, not really angsty. More just depressed.

Peter Biello: Were you dressing in black, writing dark poetry?

Orlando Montoya: Mmmm no. This isn't a therapy show.

Peter Biello: But now, well, now I'm really curious. Okay. I personally, I don't know if I was more or less angry than the average teenager, but I did, to some extent, push against the boundaries my parents set for me. Did — did you push against your parents boundaries?

Orlando Montoya: Not really. I was I was in line, you know, I got good grades. I did what I should.

Peter Biello: Kept your head down. Didn't want to draw attention to yourself.

Orlando Montoya: Yep. And — and this Fish. What is he pushing up against?

Peter Biello: So, Fish. He's got just this innate sense of anger. And you, as a reader in this book, are kind of left to — to patiently figure out like, what is it? Is this just a thing that he has forever? Is it because, you know, he was pulled away from his birth parents early in life? His mother was not a good situation for him. So make of that what you will as you as you read. That's part of the fun of reading, trying to figure out who this guy is and why he's so angry. I did ask Hundley, of course. Just a reminder that we do interview all the authors that we feature on Narrative Edge. You can find those conversations at I talked to Steven Hundley about what he thought the starting point for Fish was.

Stephen Hundley: I wanted someone that was going to be at a crux point. I think that is what you're trying to leverage with a coming-of-age, someone that has a lot of life ahead of them, a lot of choices to make and a lot of forces pulling them one way or another. With Fish in particular, his chosen family, some of them respond to violence with violence and some respond to violence and aggression with sort of a measured passivity. And Fish has to decide how he's going to handle it

Orlando Montoya: So it's a domestic violence situation?

Peter Biello: Not necessarily. Within the island, the people he lives with are actually kind to each other. The tiger on the island — which we'll get to — not very kind, but we'll we'll get to that. But there is a villain. The villain is, the source of violence. But the villains off the island is a guy named Derbier. He lives in the mainland, and he simply doesn't like that Whistle and this crew live on the island and do their thing, run their boats, and doesn't like that they have a tiger on the island. Derbier kind of hassles Whistle and Fish while they're out giving their tours, and Whistle doesn't respond with violence. She's, like I said, a peacenik. She just she is passive in these situations. And Fish is a teenager and starting to develop his own identity, his own sense of what needs to be done in situations and he really wants to return the violence. So that's kind of Fish rebelling and pushing against the boundaries, so to speak.

Orlando Montoya: And so he's forming his identity, deciding how he wants to handle things.

Peter Biello: Exactly. And of course, the island is a great metaphor in this book for childhood, at least I thought it was. I mean, your parents form this island around you, so to speak, protect you from things that — that come from off the island. In this case, Derbier and all his violence.

Stephen Hundley: I think a barrier island was such a great location for a coming-of-age, because you have to go out, you have to push the boundaries. The you know, the island is very small. It's only 3 miles by a mile and a half. So by his very, you know, morning walks, he's pushing the boundaries.

Orlando Montoya: So the main story is trying to get Derbier to leave them alone.

Peter Biello: That's one of the threads. There are a few different ones here. Derbier attempts to interfere with Fish's relationship with Celia, Derbier’s daughter, who, for reasons that are clear in the book, isn't the biggest fan of her dad. And there's also that tiger on the island.

Orlando Montoya: Oh my goodness, tiger.

Peter Biello: Yeah. A tiger named Sugar. Keeping with the strange names. Whistle and her crew brought Sugar from Atlanta. And now Sugar is grown, getting dangerous. He hunts the wild horses on the island. So part of the novel is also confronting the fact that Sugar is dangerous. Sometimes he's cuddly like a pet, and sometimes he lashes out and he's got these scary claws, and he's — he's a hunter. He's dire, you know, he's going to do what tigers do. So there's going to have to be some way to deal with Sugar and Fish and Whistle again have conflicting ideas on how to handle that. And that's part of the theme as well. So overall what — what Hundley is doing here is managing tension in a really wonderful way.

Orlando Montoya: So that's, you know, one of the things that might give the book a Narrative Edge.

Peter Biello: Oh right on, I asked Hundley about all these different elements, how he's managing the different sources of stress in the book.

Stephen Hundley: You know, I started as a short story writer. I have a lot of love for that form. And in short story, we work a lot with chronic tension and acute tension. So whereas the atomic bomb is sort of the chronic tension and is baked into the psyche and the dreams and the mythos of the place and the characters, Sugar is the acute tension. He's the bomb that's exploding now. I think my strategy with Sugar, with the bomb, with the violence coming from the mainland, was to immerse my characters in a place that I personally wanted to spend a lot of time into, and just begin to turn up the pressure until the narrative and the action became inevitable.

Peter Biello: So back when I was in writing workshops, I had a professor that that would say that stories always need some kind of quote unquote "untenable situation." That — and that can mean a lot of things, which is why we haven't run out of stories. There's so many ways a situation can be untenable, varying degrees of intensity. So here we've got a story where the tiger is the acute tension, as Hundley puts it, and the conflict with Derbier is also acute. But the bomb, as in real life, it's always there.

Orlando Montoya: Well, the bomb in real life is never going to go off. But this one?

Peter Biello: Uh — we don't know. We're not going — I can't spoil it. I can't spoil it. But I will say that I never felt as a reader as if the bomb were an actual threat. Maybe I was too distracted by the — the sources of acute tension. Those things were more interesting to me. We didn't even talk about the relationship between Fish and Celia. This is not a romance novel. But there does seem to be some spark between the two of them. Hundley said he wanted them to have an artist's relationship, but I did find — find myself wanting them to spend more time together. And it's as close as he gets to — to a girlfriend situation. And it was fascinating to see

Orlando Montoya: Are they alone on this island?

Peter Biello: They are, these these people are alone, this chosen family with all the weird names. But he does get a chance to go to the mainland every now and then. He docks his boat. He ends up meeting Celia and going to a party. As we would say in the workshops, hijinx ensue. I can't spoil that either, but it's part of what makes their relationship blossom and how his unusual life, sort of to some extent gets in the way of him having a quote unquote "normal" romantic relationship. But fascinating stuff.

Orlando Montoya: How does it hold up as a novel focused on a teenager? Could you relate to that?

Peter Biello: I think Hundley does a good job of making you interested in a teenager who is not super sophisticated in the way he thinks about himself, but is still feeling all the big emotions that you feel when you're a teenager. Right? And having felt those myself, what feels like many years ago, I can relate to that, and I know how tough that is. I found it more relatable in a way, than a book like, say, Catcher in the Rye. I know that's a weird thing to say.

Orlando Montoya: Well, he's going to be impressed that you even said that.

Peter Biello: I know.

Orlando Montoya: Put him in the same sentence.

Peter Biello: You could blurb me on that, Stephen Huntley. But, in the sense that that Holden Caulfield was, like neurotically angsty, whereas Fish is kind of a product of his circumstances. Like, he's growing up on this weird island with, sort of a polyamorous family — which I hadn't really mentioned until now, but that's that's essentially what it is. Like, there's there's no quote unquote "traditional" family structure here. And he's — he's living a different sort of life, and he's starting to recognize that he is different because of this. And he didn't really have a choice. So now he's trying to figure out a way forward for himself.

Orlando Montoya: And so we're coming up on summer. Is this a beach read?

Peter Biello: I think it's smartly written, which is not what you typically associate with a beach read. But it is fast-paced and I think the setting of the story, a barrier island, does kind of lend itself to beach reading. It's also quite short, so if you've only got a weekend on the beach, you could probably finish it in a couple of days and I think that's well worth it. Worth noting, too, that Hundley grew up in Georgia, and his first book was called The Aliens Will Come to Georgia First, which I have not read. But I love the title, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

Orlando Montoya: Oh, Bomb Island is a pretty good title, too.

Peter Biello: I would say, I would say.

Orlando Montoya: All right. The book is Bomb Island by Stephen Hundley. Peter, thanks very much.

Peter Biello: Thanks, Orlando.

Orlando Montoya: Thanks for listening to Narrative Edge. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand-new episode. This podcast is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Find us online at

Peter Biello: You can also catch us on the daily GPB News podcast Georgia Today for a concise update on the latest news in Georgia. For more on that and all of our podcasts, go to